What is the Spiritual Life?

In the Spring, 2013 issue of Inquiring Mind, Pico Iyer was asked, “What is the spiritual life?”

Part of Pico Iyer’s answer was,

“…my sense (or prejudice) has always been that a spiritual life is whatever brings the clarity and stillness, the sharpened awareness of the mountaintop into the rush and confusion and congestion of right now. Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Mother Teresa – they all move us because they’re living it.”

Pico Iyer

Further along in the article, Pico explained that he was not a Buddhist because he never sat down to practice. I think it is remarkable that two of the four exemplars of living the spiritual life are Buddhist monks. All except Thay have been Nobel Peace Prize winners.

I have personally had breakfast and visited Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (known as Thay by his followers) at his home in Plum Village and attended retreats in the United States and Canada. One of the most incredible things about Thay, other than the fact that he is turning 88 in October, is that he seems to float across the podium when he moves from his sitting position on his cushion to the white board to write or draw a picture of something related to what he is talking about.

At one point in time, Dr. Martin Luther King nominated Thay for the Nobel Peace Prize. He and Thay were friends. I’d bet that if Dr. King were still alive, this would have happened. I sure pray that he does receive it in his lifetime.

The Dalai Lama did, in fact, win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. I have had the great good fortune to attend lectures given by him in San Francisco. His sense of humor and jovial manner make you fall in love with him. I understand that he is always greeting people from all walks of life with kindness and compassion.

The rationale for the decision to honor the Dalai Lama was,

“In his struggle for the liberation of Tibet [he] consistently has opposed the use of violence. He has instead advocated peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people.”

Bishop Desmond Tutu was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. His work as Bishop of Johannesburg and Secretary General, South African Council of Churches was the rationale for his award.

Even earlier, in 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her founding of charitable missions.

Do you know of any other people who exemplify the spiritual life? Who are they and what is their message?

I have always admired Pico Iyer’s writings when they appear in Trycycle, Buddhadharam, or Shambhala Sun magazines.

Books by Pico Iyer

The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto

Pico Iyer

When Pico Iyer decided to go to Kyoto and live in a monastery, he did so to learn about Zen Buddhism from the inside, to get to know Kyoto, one of the loveliest old cities in the world, and to find out something about Japanese culture today — not the world of businessmen and production lines, but t… [Read More…]

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